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Lobos thrash Colorado State, earn first round bye in MWC Tourney

New Mexico guard Troy Simons readies to shoot as Colorado State’s Raquan Mitchell (3) defends during their Mountain West game Wednesday night in Fort Collins, Colo. Simons scored 10 points for the Lobos. (Austin Humphreys/The Coloradoan via AP)

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Paul Weir and the UNM Lobos may not be welcome back to the Front Range anytime soon.

Backed by seven players scoring in double figures and after leading by as many as 30 in the first 15 minutes of their road trip to Moby Arena, the Lobos ruined Colorado State’s senior night with a 108-87 stomping of the Rams.

Not only did the win secure for UNM (16-14, 11-6 Mountain West) a top-five league finish and a first-round bye in next week’s Mountain West tournament, it also gave UNM its first four-game win streak of the season. Also, it marked back-to-back road games eclipsing 100 points scored for the first time in program history after putting up a record 119 at Wyoming last week. UNM had scored 100 in a road game only seven times in program history before the Wyoming win.

“Offense is in a really good rhythm right now,” said Weir. “I think we’ve got a great balance of transition, some inside scorers, some outside scorers, getting to the free throw line. We’ve been in a rhythm here for awhile. It’s really good to see. …

“A lot of the things we’ve been coaching and teaching since the fall have really started to kick in here this last little bit.”

A trio of UNM seniors stole the show.

Lobo center Joe Furstinger, booed before the game after last year’s UNM game in Moby Arena featured his hard screen on Rams point guard J.D. Paige that nearly started an in-game brawl, led UNM with a career-high 22 points. He was 6-for-7 shooting and 10-of-10 at the free throw line.

New Mexico’s Sam Logwood had 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting and 5-of-5 from the free throw line. And Antino Jackson had 13 points, nine assists and four steals.

The Rams (11-20, 4-14), whose former head coach Larry Eustachy formally resigned on Monday after having not coached the team the past month while on administrative leave, didn’t seem to want to be there for much of the first half.

After UNM won the opening tip, Chris McNeal hit a 3-pointer on the first possession and it was off to the races for the Lobos. They led 11-3 in the first two and a half minutes, 21-5 in the first six and half minutes and eventually holding its largest lead of the game at 49-19 with 5:01 left in the opening half.

The 21-point final margin is the largest ever for UNM in Fort Collins in the 113 game series between the two longtime rivals.

But it also wasn’t without some coachable moments heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale against Fresno State in Dreamstyle Arena.

The Rams’ Prentiss Nixon passes around heavy pressure from Lobo Dane Kuiper, right. At rear is New Mexico’s Makauch Maluach. (Austin Humphreys/The Coloradoan via AP)

UNM had 18 turnovers and the Rams scored 55 second-half points, at one point cutting the UNM lead to 15 (98-83 with 4:28 left in the game). The usually high-energy Lobos clearly started to play down to the Rams’ energy level for stretches.

“I thought it happened towards the end of the first half and I thought in really long bouts of the second half,” Weir said. “All game long, it was like we can’t look at the scoreboard. Let’s just play the next possession. But, inevitably, you get in games like this and kids are kids and we weren’t as sharp as I would have liked throughout the entire 40 minutes. We were really just trying to hang on, I felt. That’s how we were playing, as opposed to with the same aggression we did at the beginning of the game to even get that lead in the first place.”

Then again, looking for blemishes in the Lobos’ current four-game win streak that now has them in a position to finish as high as a tie for second place (and as high as the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament) in a season of transition that they were picked to finish ninth in a preseason poll is splitting hairs, right?

Not to Weir. At least not right now.

“We haven’t talked about standings once or byes,” Weir said. “Now we’re just going to get prepped for Fresno. We’ll watch film on them tonight. Getting ready for Saturday night is really all we can control right now.”

ZAGS A’COMIN? Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson confirmed to the San Diego Union-Tribune on Wednesday he has talked with Gonzaga about possibly joining the league as early as next year.

The MWC has 11 basketball members and 12 football playing members. Adding a national power like Gonzaga, which doesn’t have football, would likely help the league secure a more lucrative television package at a time negotiations for that are about to begin for the 19-year-old conference.

Gonzaga plays in the West Coast Conference and is ranked No. 7 in this week’s AP Top 25.

 

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